When the Hillel Jewish University Center started recruiting college students from Pittsburgh to attend this November’s General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, it set 40 students as its goal.
Well, Hillel JUC didn’t quite hit its goal.
It exceeded it.
Hillel JUC is sending 44 students to the G.A., which begins Nov. 5 in New Orleans. It will boast the third largest delegation of students at the annual conference of North American Federation leaders. Only the University of Michigan (63 students) and the University of Maryland (55 students) are sending more. And the fourth largest delegation — from Cornell — is sending 18.
To put the size of the Pittsburgh delegation in context, compare it with how many students went last year from Pittsburgh — zero.
This year, “we made it a priority, and Hillel International has really made it a priority,” said Carly Adelmann, Hillel JUC assistant director for Jewish student life. “At our staff conference in
August every Hillel was challenged to bring a large number of students. They wanted to have 500 to 1,000 student delegates at the G.A.”
Hillel JUC Executive Director Aaron Weil put the G.A. on par with Birthright trips to Israel as an experience for Jewish students.
“The G.A. takes leaders in business and leaders in the Jewish community — 4,000 from all over the country — and you are networking with people in a small period of time,” he said.
He also described the G.A. as a good training ground for Jewish leaders to learn about domestic Jewish issues, not just Middle East.
“This is an opportunity, unlike Birthright and unlike AIPAC, to explore issues that have nothing to do with Israel,” Weil said.
For instance, they will explore issue such as community service, tikkun olam and aid to Haiti — issues that may resonate with younger Jews.
Since the American Jewish leadership has been “graying for years,” Weil said. The Pittsburgh students, who will go to the G.A. as equal members of the Pittsburgh delegation, will be groomed for succession there.
“The decisions they make down there will affect the Jewish community” for years to come,” Weil said. “They will come to learn.”
Thirty-eight of the 44 Pittsburgh students are from the University of Pittsburgh. Of the remaining four, three are from Carnegie Mellon University, two are from Duquesne University, and one is from Community College of Allegheny County.
Four of the 44 are graduate students, and 19 are freshmen.
Each student pays $75 for trip expenses. The Jewish Federation of North America is picking up travel expenses up to $200 per student — a subsidy it offers Hillel students nationwide — while a locally recruited Federation donor is covering meals, lodging and registration.
While in New Orleans the students will engage in community service projects such as planting trees to replace those uprooted by Hurricane Katrina. “All of Monday afternoon is dedicated to community service projects in New Orleans,” Adelmann said.
They will also be engaged with Hillel JUC President Gail Childs and board member Dodi Walker Gross, who are part of the delegation.
“It’s called unpacking,” Adelmann said. “Two times during the conference, we’re going to sit down as a delegation with Gail and with Dodi and with Aaron and ask the students what their reactions are to the different programs, the different speakers.
“They’re going to get a lot of information in a short period and we want to make sure they unpack their thoughts,” Adelmann continued. “Is there something they really connect with at the G.A. that they say, ‘This is really important to the students in Pittsburgh. We want to bring this speaker or this initiative back to our campus.’”
The hope is to get these 44 students even more involved in Jewish life when they return to Pittsburgh.
“We have expectations for them when they get back,” Weil said.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)